By Sarah Tilton, child passenger safety advocate at BRITAX Child Safety, Inc.
Family car trips allow bonding time for the whole group. Siblings can play (or fight), toddlers can laugh (or scream) and parents can relax (or subdue a pounding headache). There are ways to make sure the play, laugh and relax parts of the road trip last the longest. Whether your trip takes you around the neighborhood or across the country, use these tips to keep your child happy and safe.
- Focus on safe seating. The importance of a good car seat cannot be overstated. Some vehicle manufacturers offer a list of suggested car seat models and many car seat companies have detailed online safety resources.
- Shop wisely. Purchase a car seat that properly fits the child, the vehicle and is easy to use. After you have a safe seat, shop just as carefully for your car entertainment items. When choosin toys or accessories, be aware accessories, mirrors and hanging toys, manufactured by toy and children’s products companies, may not have not been tested or certified as safe to be used with your car seat, and could increase your child’s risk in the event of a crash.
- Install your car seat properly. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), seven out of 10 children are either not securely fastened in their car seat or are in a car seat that is not properly secured to the vehicle. Once you have the seat, follow the provided user guide for installation instructions.
- Seek a second opinion. Have a certified Child Passenger Safety (CPS) technician check your child’s seat or attend a free car seat safety check in your area. Check http://www.safekids.org for event listings.
- Check your state’s car seat laws. Some states require that children remain restrained in a child safety seat until age 9. I recommend looking for a high-weight capacity, harness-to-booster seat to accommodate older, larger children for longer periods of time.
- Safely entertain. Bring activities to keep your child occupied during trips: toys, books and drawing materials. As a general rule, opt for soft toys and books for in-car entertainment. If you have a vehicle with an open trunk design (SUV), install a barrier to keep objects safely in the back. Store any entertainment items, securely, as soon as you’re done with them. Playing children’s music on the radio is also a wonderful, soothing entertainment option.
- Timing is everything. Plan your car trip around your child’s schedule. Drive when he is happiest and well-fed. Or, for children who sleep well in the car, choose to drive during his or her naptime to make the trip easier. Either way, plan the trip around your child’s needs.
- Tag-team caretakers. Whenever possible, plan to take long trips with two adults in the car, allowing one adult to drive and one to entertain the kids. Consider having one adult ride in the backseat next to the car seat to talk to, play with and keep the smallest passenger comfortable. The tag-team approach will keep the driver’s focus safely on the road instead of on the fussy child in the backseat.
Once you’ve added these precautions to your entertainment checklist, you can be sure your family will be safe and entertained on the road.
About Sarah Tilton
Sarah Tilton is a child passenger safety advocate with Britax Child Safety Inc., a leading car seat and stroller manufacturer. An active Certified Passenger Safety (CPS) technician she is currently active with the Safe Kids Charlotte Mecklenburg coalition and is a member of the North Carolina Child Passenger Safety Training Committee.